You may know him as the man played by Gary Sinese in Ron Howard's film Apollo 13 who "worked the problem" on the ground, tediously and repeatedly, to get Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise back to Earth, searching for the last fraction of voltage from the crippled spacecraft to save the crew or the command module, but not both.
In the end, of course, he found the sequence that did save both, in April 1970, when trips to the Moon somehow became "routine." (Except for certain 13-year-old entusiasts who cried bloody murder when prime time was not interrupted for that last, casual trans-lunar coast television opportunity, minutes before all hell broke loose.)
In the course of explaining how he helped save the crew of Apollo 13, Ken Mattingly mentions, as an aside, that "in the process of going through all this [power-up procedures for the command module], somebody noticed that we could take any residual power we had in the [lunar module] batteries and run it backwards" to the Apollo command module. This was accomplished using a small-capacity power cable designed to provide power to the lunar module from the command module.
"We actually believe we topped off the [command module] batteries," Mattingly noted with understandable pride during an extended interview at his office here in mid-January
That "somebody" might have been Mattingly, and the estimated 4 amps of additional power provided by this kluge, along with a detailed power-up procedure developed by one of NASA's "steely-eyed missile men," John Aaron, allowed the Apollo 13 astronauts to restart a frozen command module that was their only means of getting home.
The off-handed manner in which Rear Adm. Thomas K. Mattingly, 73, presented this nugget of information is typical of his understated style, his modesty and his consummate ability as an engineer. These, along with the astronauts' dead-certain belief in their ability to overcome any technical hurdle, were precisely the traits that defined the Apollo program.
Referring to the painstaking development of the sequencing procedure needed to power up the hibernating Apollo 13 command module, Mattingly said, "You don't get technical answers by playing around."
The Apollo astronaut and Space Shuttle commander will be a keynote speaker on March 31 at the Embedded Systems Conference Silicon Valley 2009 (March 30-April 2) in San Jose, Calif.
Mattingly never got to walk on the Moon, and he acknowledged that every Apollo astronaut burned to do just that. "Everybody wants to go to the Moon. That means, go land on the Moon," Mattingly said. Hence, being a command module pilot was a bit like being a "bridesmaid."
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